Sebastien Loeb made a potentially decisive move in his quest for a ninth successive World Rally Championship title with a commanding first-day performance in Rallye Deutschland.

The Frenchman opened up a lead of 20.4 seconds over second-placed Petter Solberg while his Citroen team-mate and nearest rival for the title, Mikko Hirvonen, struggled to sixth place.

Loeb, alongside co-driver Daniel Elena, won four of the six stages, and said: "For sure I am happy. We are leading, that's really good and we started to increase our lead a little bit.

"I am pushing hard because I am feeling comfortable in the car and I am able to make some differences so that's good."

Jari-Matti Latvala won the day's other two stages to lie third in the rally, almost 30 seconds behind Loeb, while Hirvonen was 48.9 seconds back. Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo are fourth and fifth respectively.